Mustangs in Gasser Heaven: The Mustangs of Ohio George Montgomery
Ohio George Montgomery went from a 1933 Willys gasser to a succession of killer Mustang gassers, and even a few floppers
NHRA Hall of Famer Ohio George Montgomery started his racing career like many others during the 1950s and 1960s. Initially it was with stock Detroit iron on the street. But Montgomery had the advantage of being able to squeeze extra horses with performance parts on those engines. He also had the advantage of being able to fabricate many different parts himself. He was very impressive with a blown 1951 Caddy and later a blown small-block Chevy engine in his now-famous (infamous?) 1933 Willys.
But that Chevy small-block advantage didn’t last very long. Improving track surfaces and better tires were up to using the greater horsepower of the big-blocks. That deficiency was quite evident in 1965 when Montgomery was defeated in the 1965 Nationals, something that just didn’t happen to him.
He says, “Something had to change, and I turned my eyes toward Ford. I had been pretty friendly with them. They were impressed with my winning record and I assured them that I would win for them. What I was interested in acquiring was the dramatic new supercharged single overhead cam (SOHC) 427 ‘Cammer’ engine.”
The Cammer, of course, was a very advanced engine that Ford had hoped would be approved for competition in NASCAR. But when the stock car higher-ups got their eyes on the SOHC they quickly outlawed it. Ford decided to use in it in drag racing. The company turned to superstar Connie Kalitta to adapt it for nitro drag cars, while Montgomery used it with the gassers. Montgomery realized the potential of the engine and used it for a number of years with great success.
He says, “When I was ready to use the Cammer engine, I figured that I would be receiving a new, completely assembled engine. Not the case. It came as parts and pieces, but not all of them. I had to fab a lot of the parts, including the blower drive, intake, and both the mag and fuel pump drives. Much of the problem was that the engine was for stock car racing, but I really made it work on my Willys.”
The Malco A-Gas Mustang
Montgomery says, “The Willys was put on display at the Ford Motorsports Banquet in 1966 as a centerpiece. At the event, Charley Gray, the head of Ford Racing, introduced me to the vice president of Ford as we stood by my Willys. The VP made a pointed comment that really got my attention. He said, ‘Don’t we sell Fords?’
“My comment to Charley was, ‘You mean something like a 1940 Ford?’ His comment was ‘Something like we sell today, like a Mustang.’ I told him that the rules require an automotive frame and the Mustang is a unibody. He told me that was for me to work out. After discussions with the NHRA tech director, I was given the option of using a Willys frame lengthened 10 inches. I had numerous spares to make that modification.
“Construction of the new 1967 Mustang fastback (which would become the Malco Gasser) began in a secretive manner that NHRA condoned, and they advised me when I had questions. This new Gasser would be different but would still carry the trusty SOHC engine with a very rare Ford C6 automatic transmission furnished by Ford T&C Division. It also utilized an adjustable coil spring suspension system similar to NASCAR stock cars. It had custom-made air shocks made by Delco Products. Finally, there was a rear torque-tube drive rather than an open driveshaft. It took lots of planning, engineering, and volunteer work so it would be ready to compete in the Bristol [Tennessee] Springnationals.
“At Bristol, when I rolled the car into tech, the inspectors were surprised and wondered what class this strange new machine would run. I told them it was still the same old class I had always run, A Gas Supercharged, and they told me, ‘No way.’ I told them to talk to the boys upstairs because they know all about it. About an hour later the inspectors returned, no questions asked, and it was checked off as the same class and the rest is history.
“After the initial runs with the super-slick Mustang, I realized that I never wanted to run the top-heavy and unstable Willys again. The Mustang drove like a Caddy, very stable and straight down the track due to the longer wheelbase and the vastly improved Mustang aerodynamics. The first time out, the car ran consistently in the high upper-eight seconds.”
The first record for the blue Mustang came in the summer of 1967 when it torched an 8.93 second at 162 mph run, setting a national record. As time progressed, so did the increasing excellence of the car. It also won its class at the U.S. Nationals along with numerous wins in match racing.
During the 1968 season, the Malco Mustang acquired an appendage on its front in the form of a lower front spoiler. Montgomery says, “It was designed by Ford and approved by NHRA before it was used. I installed it myself in my shop. Ford stated that the purpose of the spoiler was to deflect air from flowing under the car, which reportedly caused the car to lift. But quite frankly I couldn’t tell the difference when I was driving it. And I didn’t change anything about my driving technique.”
The 1969 Mr. Gasket A/Gas Mach 1 Mustang
Ford appreciated the huge exposure that the Malco Gasser provided to the performance-minded niche of the buying public. With the sleek new Mach 1 coming out for 1969, Ford wanted to get similar exposure for the new car at the drag strip. But getting the body fabricated was another thing. Right off the bat, Ford didn’t just give him a fiberglass body.
Montgomery says, “What was required was for me to make a mold for the fiberglass body off one of the rare preproduction prototype Much 1s. We were scheduled one for a week, but had problems that stretched the stay to about two weeks. The Ford Engineering Group went nuts because other groups also needed it. After the body was completed, we destroyed the mold, which made the now-named ‘Mr. Gasket’ a one-of-one car. The name came from my ‘Mr. Gasket’ sponsor.”
Of course, Ford wanted to have the latest engine in the Mr. Gasket Mustang—the huge Boss 429. Unfortunately, Montgomery was unable to complete the blown Boss 429 and the special drag race parts that the 429 required, so he continued using the SOHC in 1969.
The Mr. Gasket was a new car, but don’t ever tell Montgomery it couldn’t get the job done. The first time out in 1969, at the U.S. Nationals, the biggest drag race of the year, it won the A/Gas Supercharged and Super Eliminator Classes and was awarded Best Engineered Car. Montgomery says his heavy schedule during this time period really forced him to use both of the Mustang Gassers. The cars were very similar except for their different colors and slight differences in the body shapes. He says, “For the red car, it was strictly for the NHRA national events with the blue Mustang filling in at the smaller shows.” The Mr. Gasket gasser would use the SOHC engine till late 1970.
That 1969 Nationals win didn’t come easy though. Montgomery says, “With that brand-new car, I worked right up to the last minute to get it ready. Then, in one of the elimination races, I had an idler break on the belt drive and I coasted across the finish line figuring that the day was over for me. But then my son Gregg, who was pushing me back, informed me that my opponent had fouled and I was still alive. There was a frantic effort to repair the car, which was accomplished just in time. Then we went ahead and won the Super Eliminator Class. Sometimes you are lucky; sometimes you’re not.”
But Ford still wanted a Boss 429 engine to be resting in the Mr. Gasket car. Engine builder supreme Montgomery and Ford engineer Dan Jones decided that the way to go with the engine was to install a twin-turbo system instead of a supercharger. Montgomery recalls, “Things were going along with the engine in 1970, which was about the time that Ford was moving toward getting out of racing. The money for the turbo program was drying up, but I spent my own money to keep the program going.”
Montgomery says there were problems to address, but he was able to work them out, which was his expected manner of work. He says, “After many dyno tests, fuel calibration, and turbo sizing, we had a sweet running engine producing about 1,800 horses which was about 750 more than before.”
“Next, I installed the engine in the car for testing. Not good! It was very lazy off the starting line. Then it explodes into uncontrollable tire spin. We had to work to move the torque curve lower and try to eliminate turbo lag. We did this by killing about 600 horsepower on top but increasing bottom-end torque.”
To prove the design, Montgomery went out and claimed the Gatornationals wins in both 1973 and 1974. “In 1974, I set a low e.t. of 8.26 seconds at 173.75 miles per hour to win the BB/AT Altered class.”
The car’s accomplishments should never be forgotten. During that two-year period it ran, it set six turbocharged speed and e.t. records in addition to the just-mentioned national wins. That twin-turbo setup was definitely quite radical for the time period. The exhaust pipes exited in front and above the front wheels, making a very strange sound compared to all the other cars running. Coming off the line, the turbo wasn’t quite as quick as those cars carrying the conventional powerplants, but when the turbos spooled up it was like the car had been given a rocket boost. The fact that Montgomery had so many cars outclassed caused a lot of controversy, and NHRA felt that he was sandbagging and factored the NHRA index to the point that the car was noncompetitive. Like they did with nearly every other supercharged combination throughout the sanction’s history.
Other Montgomery Mustang Drag Cars
Granted, the Malco and Mr. Gasket Mustangs were the best known and most successful of Ohio Montgomery’s drag Mustangs, but there were two others that Montgomery drove on a limited basis. First there was the 1971 Boss Turbo Mustang from 1971 and 1972 that used a twin-turbo powerplant very similar to, but more-powerful than, the setup used on the Mr. Gasket Mustang. Then there was the so-called Super Gasser II (with an amazing paint scheme) powered by the old faithful SOHC engine, but this time on alcohol.
Where Are They Now?
Surprisingly, all four of the Montgomery Mustang drag machines still exist and are in excellent—and original—condition. The Malco Mustang has a prominent spot in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The Mr. Gasket Mustang is in the possession of Bob Perkins. The Boss Turbo and Super Gas II are in the hands of other private collectors.